The more the federal government passes laws to insure my security, the more insecure I feel. Let’s take the government’s proposed use of RFID technology as an example of my concern.
RFID stands for radio frequency identification. The RFID chip is a miniature device that has a very small chip attached to a tiny antenna. When the chip hears a specific radio signal, it responds with information, usually a long identification number. The chips, also called tags, are used in the private sector for many information tracking functions including inventory management, EKG carts in hospitals, cash-free toll booths, the movement of shipping containers, library books, credit cards, and even tires. The military currently uses these chips in Iraq and has used RFID technology since World War II.
The United States government has become more involved in the technology for security purposes. The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005. The law requires standardized driver’s licenses, passports, and identification cards with machine readable data to be in place throughout the country by December 2009. The technology being used is RFID.
The problem with this proposed timeframe is that the Federal Government has not finalized the laws requirements and has not indicated how much it will pay of the estimated 11 billion dollar cost of the program over the next 5 years. There are logistical issues involved in the implementation as well. An analysis by the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures cast doubt about the viability of getting every licensed driver to the Department Of Motor Vehicles to verify identification documents within a five-year time period.
The Real ID Act has its opponents. Maine, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington have passed legislation opposing Real ID. These states worry about an individual’s loss of privacy and liberty.
The states worry that personal privacy may be violated because RFID technology could be subject to both virus and information theft. This is because the chips work similar to a smart card. The problem is that they can be read from a distance. A receiving device can “talk” to the chip remotely, without any need for physical contact, and get whatever information is on it.
Passport officials envision being able to download the information on the chip simply by bringing it within a few centimeters of an electronic reader. Unfortunately, RFID chips can be read by any reader, not just the ones at passport control. The dubious result of this is that travelers carrying around RFID passports (and eventually drivers licenses) are broadcasting their identity. In tests, RFID chips have been read by receivers 20 meters away.
However, there are even bigger concerns about RFID technology than its use in drivers licenses or passports. For years, RFID chips have been implanted in the bodies of pets to keep track of stray animals. There is a company called Verichip that has received FDA approval and manufactures a chip for the human being to store emergency medical information. The chip can be implanted in the thumb or arm of a person. Verichip has implanted the chip in about 50 people. The company also markets an implant chip in South America as a way to track potential kidnap victims.
Further, consider the use of RFID chips by Cincinnati based Citywatch.com. The private video surveillance company has embedded Verichip silicon RFID chips in two of its employees. The company is using the technology to control an employee’s access to physical locations in order to keep classified information secure. This is the first instance in which workers have been chipped as a way of identification.
RFID chips have been used in humans in other countries. Chips have been implanted in more than 2000 nightclub patrons in Barcelona, Spain, and Rotterdam, Netherlands for access to the club’s amenities and an easy way to pay for the club’s services. Credit card companies have been closely following the technology for several years as a potential way for chip-implanted customers to make secure purchases through their credit cards.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is now on the Board of Directors of Verichip. Thompson is excited about the company’s technology and sees a big future for the implant of the chip in humans for all their medical data storage.
Verichip’s (Human implant RFID) chip has raised concerns from civil libertarians and state governments. Last month, Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation banning employers from requiring employees to be implanted with RFID tags. The bill’s sponsor State Senator Joe Simitian (D- Palo Alto), condemned human tagging as the “ultimate invasion of privacy.”
If you are interested in the storage of your health records in a chip in your body, the VeriChip implant procedure costs about $200 in your doctor’s office. As for me, call me old fashioned, since I will continue to use the health card in my wallet. However, due to the passage of the Real ID act, to insure my personal security, my next passport and drivers license may have to be wrapped in aluminum foil.